Two-time Horse of the Year returns to the races in the Grade II Bernard Baruch Handicap. Below is a horse-by-horse look at the race:

5th Saratoga
Bernard Baruch Handicap (G2)
Purse $250,000
1-1/16 miles (turf)


Course Notes: At this distance (1-1/16 miles), Saratoga’s turf course favors early runners (“E” designation in the BRIS ultimate past performances) or pure pressers (“P”) breaking from the inside post positions, specifically 1-3 (1.49 impact value). The average winner is three lengths off the pace at the first call (opening half-mile) and 2.1 lengths back at the second call (six furlongs).

Avg. ESR: +3 (soft)
Avg. LSR: -2 (good)

1-BIO PRO (5/1 morning line odds)
Speed Rank: 4 ESR Rank: 3 LSR Rank: 8

Pros: Good early lick and a competitive last-race Brisnet speed figure (98) on Aug. 2.
Cons: Former claimer has failed miserably in two graded tries when fifth in the Grade II Citation on Nov. 29 and 11th in the Grade II San Marcos on Feb. 8.

1A-BOISTEROUS (5/1)
Speed Rank: 5 ½ ESR Rank: 9 LSR Rank: 3

Pros: He’s a former Grade I winner (last year’s Man o’ War Stakes at Belmont Park).
Cons: Son of Distorted Humor is seven years old now and has won or placed in just one of his past eight races since the Man o’ War. His overall ESRs rank ninth in the field and his last trip to the winner’s circle at Saratoga came in 2010.

2-OPTIMIZER (30/1)
Speed Rank: 11 ESR Rank: 6 LSR Rank: 10

Pros: New trainer Jose Fernandez is great with new additions to his barn (3-of-17 since 2008) and Optimizer is a three-time graded winner (all Grade III affairs).
Cons: Despite some useful works, Fernandez’s charge is in awful form right now, coming off a 33-length drubbing in the Elkhorn at Keeneland on April 25. He’s also 0-for-11 in Grade II events.

3-NORTH STAR BOY (20/1)
Speed Rank: 10 ESR Rank: 8 LSR Rank: 1+

Pros: This former claimer is deceptively good. First of all, his lifetime record in the states is great — three wins, three seconds and four thirds from 12 starts — and his overall LSRs are tops in the field (and decidedly so). What’s more, his trainer (Niall Saville) has a +56 percent ROI with horses coming off a win since 2008 (34 starters).
Cons: Ranks ninth in class on my Pace Profile Report and has never faced competition this good.

4-WISE DAN (3/5)
Speed Rank: 3 ESR Rank: 4 LSR Rank: 5

Pros: Two-time Horse of the Year towers above this field in terms of class (a 1.38 Class Rating on my Pace Profile Report; Lea is second at 0.25). He’s a 10-time Grade I winner and has been working steadily for his return. Loved how he outgamed Seek Again the last time he was on the track (in the Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on May 3).
Cons: The red flags are starting to accumulate for trainer Charles Lopresti’s seven-year-old gelding. Wise Dan’s last two Brisnet speed figures haven’t cracked the century mark — unlike 14 of his previous 15 BSFs. Worse, his pace figures, which were once unimpeachable, have started to slide. Son of Wiseman’s Ferry is still undeniably great, but his margin for error has shrunk considerably.

*5-LEA (4/5)
Speed Rank: 2 ESR Rank: 2 (dirt) LSR Rank: 1 (dirt)

Pros: A “main track only” (MTO) entrant, Lea is coming off the biggest win of his career — a wire-to-wire victory in the Grade I Donn Handicap. He’s fast and has great tactical speed.
Cons: Clearly, the son of First Samurai wants no part of Wise Dan on the grass, as he was beaten badly in both the Firecracker Handicap and the Fourstardave last year.

6-PARIS VEGAS (12/1)
Speed Rank: 7 ESR Rank: 7 LSR Rank: 6

Pros: Decent effort, despite a wide trip, in his latest.
Cons: Huge class issues and mediocre pace figures.

*7-RED RIFLE (3/1)
Speed Rank: 8 ½ ESR Rank: 1 (dirt) LSR Rank: 2 (dirt)

Pros: Another one praying for rain. His biggest win came in wire-to-wire fashion at Sam Houston.
Cons: If the race comes off the turf and if this guy competes, it looks like he’ll need the early lead to stand any hope of reaching the wire first.

8-FIVE IRON (8/1)
Speed Rank: 1 ESR Rank: 2 LSR Rank: 7

Pros: Won the Grade III Ft. Marcy in impressive front-running, freewheeling fashion. He’ll go as far as the internal splits will let him and will be a huge threat if he can catch a breather at some point in the race.
Cons: Sayaad, who breaks right outside of Five Iron, has the best overall ESRs in the field and might insure that the aforementioned “breather” never comes.

9-SAYAAD (6/1)
Speed Rank: 5 ½ ESR Rank: 1 LSR Rank: 9

Pros: Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin is outstanding (36 percent winners from 72 starters) with horses that are making their third start off of a layoff like Sayaad. Better still, McLaughlin’s charge is a fresh four years old and has won three of his past four starts.
Cons: Like Five Iron, this guy’s best races have come when he’s led at the first call. Worse, his LSRs don’t match the race par.

10-SKY BLAZER (15/1)
Speed Rank: 8 ½ ESR Rank: 10 LSR Rank: 4

Pros: He’s 3-of-6 at this distance (1-1/16 miles) and finished third in this race in 2012.
Cons: Barclay Tagg trainee is 0-for-10 in graded stakes and zip-for-5 at the Spa.

* Entered for the main track only.

MY PLAY(S): Assuming that 4-WISE DAN generates a negative show pool, I’ll wager on 3-NORTH STAR BOY to show. I’ll also be paying close attention to the scratches. If either 8-FIVE IRON or 9-SAYAAD is scratched, I’ll play the other to show as well. I might also (depending on the odds) place win bets on 3, 8 or 9 and play a “saver” exacta keying 4 over 3, 8 and 9.

FREE Handicapping Reports

Saratoga Pace Profile Report (8/30/14)
Saratoga Win Factor Report (8/30/14)